Directed by A. Schneider in 1965 and written by Samuel Becket, it’s a twenty minute film in black and white. It stars Buster Keaton who plays an anonymous elderly man who meets a couple in a shabby bombsite and they tear up photographs. Then he enters a derelict room. We only see his back as he keeps moving around the room. There is a Sumerien picture, photographs, and a mirror. In the end he sees himself and looks astonished.
Becket wrote this as an illustration of the philosopher Bishop Berkeley’s teaching that to be is to be perceived, “esse ist percipi“. It’s as if the old man is trying to find or correct something in the room. He keeps moving about. Does he try to avoid the metaphorical watcher which could be conscience or memory? He keeps tearing up photos, so is it resistance to the demands of his past or his emotions, or is it the getaway from the BIG PERCEIVER, either self or God? Becket acknowledges that our reality is based on being seen, either by others or by ourselves, so we can only bear witness to our own reality. Buster Keaton was a big star of the silent screen, he was a genius of comedy and in this film we are reminded of his ability to make us laugh: his lugubrious face erupting into dismay and astonishment. He looks a bit like Dali. It seems he didn’t understand what Becket was getting at in this film.
If you find Berkeley’s philosophy persuasive then Film acts like reality itself and there is no boundary between this work of art and everyday activity. Berkeley offered an ingenious solution to the problem of sense data which are the different perspectives we have on any object— a table looks completely different seen from the top or horizontally for example. We cannot perceive every perspective, what does this whilst we don’t? Berkeley believed that humanly unsensed sense data must exist in the mind of God (e.g. God hears the tree fall in the forest when no one else does), so this film seems to me to be a silent parable about our relationship with God, which we seek or avoid. The Keaton character is like Vladimir and Estragon in Becket’s Waiting for Godot, they wait for Godot whereas Keaton has reluctantly found Godot.